MONROE, Mich. (AP) — Fishing and hunting enthusiasts are hailing creation of Monroe County’s newest state game area in the north-county region that opened last fall after the Crystal Waters’ property was sold to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The 680-acre site in northern London Township has already served hunters and fishermen and is expected to attract even more hunters and outdoor lovers as word gets out, supporters say.
The parcel was sold in September by Mark Brant, owner of Crystal Waters LLC, to become the fifth state game area in the county, The Monroe News reports. Although far from being fully developed, the land is available to hunt, fish, trap and walk on the sprawling wooded site while the property is being improved for visitors, said Joseph D. Robison, supervisor of the DNR’s Southeast Region that includes 17 counties in Southeast Michigan.
“This is a great location for a game area,” Robison said. “It’s within a (reasonable) driving distance for many hunters who live outside the county. It’s large and there’s not a lot of homes in the area. Anybody can use it.”
He praised Brant for working with the state and stakeholders like Pheasants Forever, the Gibraltar Duck Hunters and Michigan United Conservation Clubs to iron out a deal over three years.
“Mark was patient and a great guy to work with,” Robison said. “Without the landowner, this wouldn’t be possible.”
The game area is already being used for hunting, fishing, trapping and other recreational opportunities and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are also more than six miles of hiking trails in it.
The game area, which has not officially been named yet, will be maintained like all of the game areas in the state – with revenue from hunting and fishing license fees.
“Our goal is to make it the best habitat we can and to create grasslands,” Robison said. “People are welcome to walk in it and look for mushrooms, too.”
The game area is bounded by Darling, Tuttle-Hill, Palmer and Grames Roads, and got its name from a half-dozen lakes that lie within the property. Part of the game area was once a quarry mined by the former London Sand Co. back in the 1980s. The sand property was one of the first release sites for wild turkeys in county in the late 1980s, he said. London Sand, which was later acquired by Stoneco of Michigan, eventually sold the land to Brant.
Brant said the property was appraised at $6.2 million and he sold the site to the DNR for $3.675 million and donated the rest of the money to the DNR. He said he “donated the excess value between the appraised value and the negotiated price. I will get to deduct the difference in the values.”
Both the MUCC and the DNR trust fund provided the money for the acquisition.
Currently, there is no other public hunting land within 30 miles and approximately 23% of the state’s population lives in one of the counties bordering the site.
The state owns a huge amount of property in northern Michigan, but owns comparatively little in the lower half of the state and virtually none in the southeast corner, with the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area being an exception, both Brant and state Rep. Joe Bellino said. Brant said he was approached by the DNR about five years ago about selling the 680 acres for a game area.
“It was relayed to me at the time that the new director at the DNR wanted to bring more outdoor recreational activities to this part of the state where the majority of the population resides,” Brant said in an email. “My property was identified as a good candidate because it was one of the largest contiguous pieces of undeveloped property in the region and under one ownership. It had seven lakes, was within a 50-mile radius of 5 million people and was in a rural area that could accommodate a state game area.”
With a little prodding from Robison, state Sen. Dale Zorn, former state Rep. Bill Lavoy and Bellino, Brant said he was convinced to sell the land at a reduced price and donate the remaining value to the state to establish the game area.
“I had big plans to develop the property, but in the end those plans weren’t feasible and I decided that selling it to the state for everybody’s enjoyment was a better use of the land,” Brant said.
Both Zorn and Bellino, R-Monroe, applauded the acquisition and said they look forward to promoting its benefits to constituents in the area. Bellino said 95% of state-owned land for hunting and fishing is located in Northern Michigan and many county residents have to travel long distances to get there.
“It’s nice to see the state spending more money down state and less money up north,” Bellino said. “This is a good move for Southeast Michigan.”
He said the game area will be developed slowly like the River Raisin National Battlefield in Monroe.
“But when it’s done, it will be gorgeous,” he said.
He added that money from a DNR Trust Fund that collects oil and gas royalties from industries that extract minerals from the land will be used to develop the new game area. He said there is about $500 million in the fund and the money can also be used to fund walking trails and other improvements at Sterling State Park.
He said the game area is not far from Lake Erie, another hotspot for fishing and boating.
Zorn, R-Ida, cited the benefits of a recreational area to help persons suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Public land access and recreation have proven to be the linchpin for Michiganders’ mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic,” Zorn said. “This acquisition provides much-needed recreational opportunities in an area that is, essentially, a public land desert.”
Robison said much still has to be done at the site. A sign stating “Public Hunting” is posted near the entrance off Darling Rd. between Tuttle-Hill and Palmer Rds. About a half-dozen new parking lots are planned along with directional signage. The seven inland water bodies include two large lakes and three man-made ponds, he said.
The 680 acres are a “national treasure” that offers diverse cover types, water resources and excellent habitat for deer, turkey, waterfowl and many other wildlife species, he said. He recalled hunting on the parcel in the 1990s with former state lawmaker Jerry Bartnik.
“This new game area will get more use as people catch on,” he said. “Next year, I see a lot more people there.”
Besides Pointe Mouillee, the county also has three other game areas: Erie State Game Area, Petersburg State Game Area and the Pointe aux Peaux State Wildlife Area in Frenchtown Township, he said.
In the DNR Wildlife Division’s application to the trust fund board, a proposed timeline of amenities and offerings was outlined. In it, it said hiking trails would be established within one year after the closing and a boat launch and access drive would be expanded and improved on the 85-acre lake. The improvements would include adding security lights and a parking lot within two years and planting warm-season prairie grasses on 300 acres of agricultural land and fallow fields within three years.
MUCC contributed $335,000 to help move the sale forward and played a pivotal role in helping to pass legislation creating the trust fund and bringing the different sides to the negotiating table, said Amy Trotter, executive director for MUCC. She said the organization was proud to contribute to the historic public land acquisition.
“Access to quality public lands for hunting, hiking, trapping and outdoor recreation is a keystone policy issue for MUCC and its members,” she said in a press release. “With this purchase, Southeast Michigan residents will now have more opportunity to pursue their passions on land and water that will be managed with conservation in mind for generations to come.”